The Thanksgiving turkey’s not even been purchased before a host of evergreen trees start heading down from the hills, to be trucked across the Southeast and up the East Coast.

Rodney Buchanan’s crew has been cutting and baling fragrant Fraser firs since mid-November, no matter what the weather. Coming into the holiday season, farmers across the mountains finally see the payoff from years of raising trees on the high slopes. North Carolina ranks second in the nation, supplying more than 4 million trees to what’s a $1 billion annual market in the U.S. alone.

Last week, the Bakersville bank thermometer read 12 degrees when Buchanan rode through blowing snow on his way to work outside the Clarissa community. “Yesterday was more miserable,” Buchanan said, hunkered in a hooded sweatshirt, heavy jacket and insulated pants. “It was raining and about 40 degrees, but we put rain suits on the guys and cut about 300 trees.”

Today was baling day. The men in their green slickers dragged the shaggy trees from yesterday out of the snowy field to the roaring diesel baler. They are hired Hispanics, legally documented workers who work apples and produce at other seasons. Come November, they drive up from Hendersonville to the High Country.

Rodney’s uncle, Burl Buchanan, 74, manned the cable that pulls the trees through the large ring where the tree branches are tightly bound with green plastic twine. The trees will be stacked like green crayons standing in the back of a truck that will be bound from Bakersville to retail lots in New York. They would bale about 150 trees in the blowing snow before calling it quits for the day. Each season, the Buchanan family business will harvest some 40,000 to 50,000 trees for the wholesale market — “the mom and pop tree outlets, Boy Scouts, church groups and others,” Buchanan said.

From the Asheville Citizen-Times: